What are Safe Relationships?
I (John) have a fitness fanatic friend named Mark who evangelizes me on the gospel of health whenever he has a chance. He’s a lovable guy, but he’s the kind who always finds a way to change the conversation to exercise, diet, and vitamins.
We were having breakfast one day, and he began talking about his struggles with his wife, Diane. They were going through a painful period and having lots of conflict. Instead of giving advice, I listened and tried to understand what Mark was going through.
As we talked, he expressed everything from sadness to frustration to anxiety. By the time we finished, however, his face had relaxed, and he could actually smile and joke around.
‘You look like you’re feeling better,’ I said.
‘Absolutely, I’m more encouraged’, Mark said. ‘Wheat toast, fruit, and herbal tea make me a new man’! Then he looked at me and grinned sheepishly. ‘Uh, and it might have helped to have someone to talk to,’ he admitted.
Though Mark wasn’t sure about that fact, I am. What happened at breakfast is that I acted as a safe person for Mark to confide in. Just as surely as we were taking in our breakfast to sustain us physically, so we were talking to sustain ourselves emotionally. We were enjoying the great benefits of a safe relationship.
What is a safe relationship?
We like to think of a safe relationship as one that does three things:
1. Draws us closer to God.
2. Draws us closer to others.
3. Helps us become the real person God created us to be.
The Bible refers to these three areas of spiritual growth. We fulfill the greatest commandment, to love God (Matt. 22:37-28). We keep the second commandment, to love each other (Matt. 22:39). And we grow into the particular person that God created us to be, accomplishing the tasks he has designed for us (Eph. 2:10).
When we asked people to describe a ‘safe person’ to us, they gave us these descriptions:
A person who accepts me just like I am.
A person who loves me no matter how I am being or what I do.
A person whose influence develops my ability to love and be responsible.
Someone who creates love and good works within me.
Someone who gives me an opportunity to grow.
Someone I can be myself around.
Someone who allows me to be on the outside what I am on the inside.
Someone who helps me to deny myself for others and God.
Someone who allows me to become the me that God intended.
Someone who helps me become the me God sees in me.
Someone who touches my life and draws me closer to who God created me to be.
Someone who helps me be like Christ.
Someone who helps me to love others more.
We would all want people in our lives that help us in these ways. But the problem is, how do we recognize them? What do they look like?
We all struggle on different sides on the ‘safe relationship’ issue. Some do not even think we need relationships with other people. They think the Lord is enough and that you should only trust in him. Others think that they must depend only on themselves. Still others believe that the Bible teaches the value of relationships, but then they find themselves in hurtful relationships over and over again. They pick hurtful friends, spouses, churches, work partners, spiritual leaders, and dating relationships. They seem to not have the ability to find and like safe people. Having a seemingly astounding talent for finding people that will ultimately hurt them, they repeat patterns over and over again, and then become discouraged about relationships in general.
So for us to begin to utilize safe relationships, we need to first understand what a safe person is and why we need that kind of safety. The best example of a safe person is found in Jesus. In him are found the three qualities of a safe person; dwelling, grace, and truth.
As John wrote: ‘The Word became flesh and lived for awhile among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and the only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14).